The logistics of cutting nearly 60 2-ton blocks of ice and getting them set up for ice carvers to work their magic is a daunting task. As the lake freezes it has to be kept free of snow so the ice will freeze deep and clear, an extra challenge in a record snow fall year with weeks of rain and thawing temperatures in between. An idea that began some 14 years ago to enhance the Peninsula Winter Games and winter visitation to the area by Soldotna Rotarians Jerry Near, Ed Krohn, and Norm Blakeley, the ice carving has become a winter tradition for the area.
The first fishing for ice expedition was at Arc Lake and involved a chain saw, tow truck, and a few determined individuals. Last week at Fosters Gravel Pit lake, over 20 Soldotna Rotarians, starting two hours before dawn with generated lights began lining, cutting, removing and loading the mammoth blocks of ice estimated to weigh some 3,200 lbs, requiring a specially designed and fabricated ice cutting jig to hold the chain saw, two heavy duty hydraulic loaders, and a mega-btu heater to keep the saws thawed in the -22 degree temperatures, 3 flat bed semi-tractor trailers, and a barbeque to keep the volunteers full of hot dogs and hamburgers. "We've cut ice in these temperatures before, but this is the thickest ice we've ever cut at nearly 30 inches, but it's hard on the equipment and we wear out quickly as well, but it's still fun. Both saws have broken down twice, but with the help Brent Hibbert and some other great mechanics out here we're getting it done," said David Wartinbee.
Several years ago Rotarian Dale Bagley suggested using the open water after the ice cutting for a polar bear jump to raise funds for Rotary International's fight against Polio. This year, even with the new ice forming as fast as they could remove the blocks of ice, two club members Matthew Pyhala and Patrick Reilly made the plunge, breaking the new ice with their foreheads and gasping for breath as they emerged from under the water, "Barely can talk!" exclaimed Pyhala as he hurried to dry off as steam formed a cloud around his body, "Beyond invigorating!" gasped Reilly. "It's about fun, raising money for Rotary projects and it's become a tradition but it was colder today than it has been when I've jumped before," Pyhala managed to say. "Air temperature being as cold as it was they said the water would seem warmer, but the layer of ice was thicker than it looked, and it didn't feel anything but COLD," added Reilly.
Ice sculptures are already taking shape around town at participating businesses and there will be 25 finished carvings to enjoy by the time the Peninsula Winter Games begin January 28th at the Soldotna Sports Center thanks to the huge volunteer effort of the Soldotna Rotary Club. "The 36th Annual Peninsula Winter Games promise to be the most exciting of winter festivals, right here in Soldotna! The Peninsula Winter Games is jam-packed with family-friendly activities and attractions, including: Games, Fireworks, Food and more. It's all about the Kids, and it's all free thanks to our many Soldotna Chamber Sponsors," said Soldotna Chamber even coordinator January Yaeger. For more details about the event go to www.visitsoldotna.com .